Rosemary Neave was behind a venture called FutureChurch funded by the Methodist Church to network and explore new ways of being ‘church’ – particularly those emerging outside the institutional Church. Now living in Christchurch.
She wrote this recent piece for Methodist Touchstone. Rosemary reflects…
All the statistics indicate the Church as we know it, is (still) on its way out. Grey haired Senior card holders largely fill the pews, and any work with young people does not seem to have resulted in any pathway of strong belonging as they get older.
The only pathway of belonging to the Church seems to be weekly attendance at a service, and despite talks of ‘Mission’ and outreach, in my experience most of the Church’s attempts at communication are so out of date, that they end up talking to the same people.
Institutionally I am a fringe dweller these days, but in those fringes I meet many others from the church diaspora who find no place to belong or connect to ‘Church’ in any way that empowers and sustains them. I also find others who have never had a connection to church who are drawn to it’s story, but once again find no place to enter and engage with it.
My friend the late Judith Dale said “christianity is my mother tongue”. Despite her stroppy feminist engagement and critique of the Church, it remained the culture she was at home in.
FutureChurch created a framework for individuals and groups of people connect with that ‘mother tongue’ without belonging to anything that looked like ‘institutional church’. Many such individuals and groups are still out there. Some of them occasionally sit at the back of a church at a special service, they are on faith journey’s that rarely connect with the traditional Church.
Some Ways Forward?
Let the Church as it is become a Retirement Community
Allow it to transition to something smaller, less resource dependent. If you have paid clergy, free them up to spend time and creative energy NOT looking after you and your needs.
Redirect the Energies of Paid Clergy
Move away from existing congregations, to developing some new models and ways of connecting. My suggestion used to be to paid clergy to ‘tithe’ their time – give 10% of their quality time to new models and ventures. I suggest a bare minimum now would be 20%. Bishops and Synodical leaders should do the same – stop spending 100% of the time and resources on the present model. Redirect energy and money to mentoring people and places into new initiatives.
Seasonal Liturgies a possible new focus
Develop a pattern of 8-10 Seasonal liturgies a year (Easter, Christmas, All Saints, Mid Winter/Matariki, Harvest Festivals… ) and put energy into those liturgies – design them for people who do not go to church, work with schools and community groups. Advertise them widely, let them stand alone, don’t assume they are a route to traditional weekly membership and belonging.
Encourage new ways of belonging
– Focus on some new ways of communicating
Develop Mailchimp email lists, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Websites that give a place to connect that is not the weekly service. Advertising the seasonal liturgies above, share resources for contemplation, for social justice. Don’t discuss in-house church stuff! Let our communications be invitational – giving people a way to connect, not just informing and giving information – create pathways of connection.
Don’t Assume All Churches are the same
Celebrate difference. – Don’t have a sign that says All are Welcome when some are not – I find this a particularly frustrating sign, when I know that some churches do not welcome gay and lesbian people as they are. Let me know if you offer spiritual direction, Alpha courses or youth activities – let me make a choice around those things.
Light a Fire, don’t fence People in
I wrote a story once about church for me being a place that keeps a fire going – a place for people to gather around, and be drawn to, a place of story telling and connection. Some people commit themselves to keeping that fire going, others will come and sit a while, to gain strength for their journey.
Let’s light more fires!
The article in Touchstone let a few fires and conversations notably with Steve Taylor who has been doing some interesting work in this area. See here